Gmail's 20th Anniversary: Revisiting the Birth of a Web App Icon

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On a recent episode of This Week in Tech, host Leo Laporte and guests Daniel Rubino, Doc Rock, and Allyn Malventano took a nostalgic trip down memory lane to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Gmail's launch. The discussion not only highlighted the significance of Gmail's debut but also explored its role in ushering in a new era of web apps and cloud-based services.

As the conversation unfolded, it became evident that Gmail's impact extended far beyond its innovative email service. Daniel Rubino, Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central, reminisced about the excitement and FOMO (fear of missing out) surrounding the coveted invite system. "It was also probably the first real FOMO on the internet," he remarked, emphasizing the exclusivity and buzz surrounding the service at the time. Doc Rock, the esteemed YouTuber and Ecamm ambassador, shared his experience of being one of the lucky few to receive an invite from Kevin Rose, a well-known tech personality.

But Gmail's true legacy lies in its pioneering role as one of the first mainstream web apps. As Allyn Malventano, former host of This Week in Computer Hardware and former Naval intelligence expert, pointed out, "You could right-click on a line in the email on the list, and it would show you a menu instead of just your browser right-click options. That was like a new thing." Laporte further elaborated on this groundbreaking aspect, stating, "I think Gmail does not get enough credit for introducing the world to the notion that you could have an app running on a website." He emphasized that Gmail's web app-like experience was a novel concept at the time, paving the way for future web-based applications. 

The discussion also delved into the rise of progressive web apps (PWAs). Rubino highlighted Google's leadership in the PWA revolution, noting that many of their services now offer excellent PWA experiences. He expressed excitement about their potential, like providing app-like functionality without the need for native app development. However, the panelists acknowledged the challenges faced by PWAs, particularly Apple's ambivalent stance on supporting the technology. Laporte criticized Apple's reluctance to fully embrace PWAs, suggesting that it stems from a desire to protect their lucrative App Store revenue.

As the conversation drew to a close, the experts reflected on Gmail's enduring legacy and its role in shaping the modern digital landscape. From introducing the world to web apps to pushing the boundaries of cloud-based services, Gmail's impact on the tech industry cannot be overstated. As web apps and cloud services continue to shape the digital world, tech enthusiasts will remember Gmail as a pioneering force in seamless online productivity. 

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